This memoir has been a couple years in the making. In June 2007, having wrapped up the semester as a 19-year-old college sophomore, I packed my duffel, drove straight from campus to the airport, and set off to travel and live on my own for 15 months in Iraq, Iran and Turkey. My initial objective was to do an independent research project on Kurdish political graffiti in those countries. But within a couple of months I realized I had better things to do, and from then on it was all improvisation.

I convinced the head of the Kirkuk governing council that I was an influential journalist and got an armored escort through the city. I scandalized my little blonde roommate by smoking pot with Iranian underground musicians. I dated a Turkish girl whose mother would call five times an hour and on occasion demand we move to a restaurant at higher elevation for better cell phone signal. I resisted conversion attempts by my Iranian aunt, an Indian in her past reincarnation, to join her mystic sect and move to Iran to become an avocado farmer. I babysat an American college boy on vacation in Iraq who spent the better part of his weekend in the country trying to pick up local girls with magic tricks he learned on the internet. I got kicked out of a Turkish shipping port on suspicion of being a Kurdish terrorist and hassled by Iranian morality police.

Lacking as always the patience to do things the conventional way, I’m posting my account of the trip online for free while it remains timely. My hope is to provide a micro-level perspective of a region to which most Americans have little exposure outside of the international news cycle, and in equal parts an inspiration and cautionary tale to students and travelers of all ilk.

I’ve changed the names of many of the characters and organizations, either out of security concerns or because I say mean things about them.

Sincere thanks to my family for their encouragement of this project and especially my mom for all the help with editing an uncoordinated mass of blog posts and scrawled notebook entries into something readable; and to all those who fed and sheltered and put up with me while I was abroad, too numerous to name here.

Noah Arjomand
September 2009

For questions and comments please contact me at narjoman(at)gmail.com